Music Producer Kamandi on Turning a Washed Up Middle Aged Man into a Martyr
We also talk about the pressure of saying yes, the feelings behind a song and the value of just making a lot of music.
Christchurch producer Kamandi (Tyrone Frost) is shaping up to have a great trajectory in the electronica scene. He's a cool guy, but like many artists just has no idea how to describe what makes him good (it's that Tracey Austin situation David Foster Wallace describes so well). He doesn't quantify or construe himself, but neither do you want to. I mean, you could talk about how the song he produced 'Crown Violet' for Azizi Gibson hit nearly a million listens on Soundcloud, or how his own music stands its own as well (162,000 Soundcloud listens and counting on 'Martyrs'), but it doesn't feel right talking about this dude like that. His music speaks louder than his numbers.
We caught up this week to talk about his new music video for 'Martyrs', crowds and navigating the music industry.
Laetitia Laubscher: The last time I saw you was at Rhythm and Vines last year. How did you find playing there?
Tyrone Frost (Kamandi): Yeah it was awesome. It [the Arcadia Afterburner] was the craziest stage I had ever played on. It had flames coming it from the side, it looked like a robot, it was cool, it was just a good experience.
LL: What are you up to at the moment?
TF: I'm writing - just trying to finish my EP. But I've got this problem that when if I leave music too long without putting it out I actually dislike it. (laughs)
LL: What's your songwriting process like?
TF: Um, it changes, a lot. I think, at the moment I'm kind of addicted to making music so I feel I kind of get stressed if I haven't sat down to make something in a few days. So I need to be creating stuff. Lots of that won't be any good, but then some of it will be. But I've always got an idea. You start to work out pretty quickly whether it works or not. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't translate, although it sounded like it might've in my head.
Although I do think the idea behind the song is the most interesting part, but then you start thinking in little pieces of the song – so you go through this phase where you only hear this one fucking little sound in it but then afterwards when you see how people react it's like how I judge it, I guess.
LL: How does the the crowd's reaction to a song affect how you feel about it?
TF: I think although I make music because it's what I want to make, I think by default I'm affected by the response I get. I'm more inclined to like certain songs of mine if they're received well. Although I ultimately make music for me, but I can't help but like it more or less if people like it.
LL: What's your best experience with a crowd been?
TF: I don't know. I don't know if I have one favourite thing, but I just like when a crowd's responsive. I try my best to give it my all any time, but it's only natural than when people are getting really into it is when I can step up my game more. Every time people have been happy and enjoying it I've been happy and enjoying it.
LL: When you write a song, where does that initial idea or feeling come from?
TF: I'm really bad at honing in on how things like that came about. Sometimes I start by just mucking around with some chords and then liking what I was doing and would come up with the idea based around that, sometimes I've heard a piece of music that's inspired me, or I'd be out and about and would see something happen that would make me want to make a certain type of music. And then I've gone and tried to make it. So I don't have just one main source of inspiration. And I can't actually think of the particular inspiration behind each track, I don't really know where I get the ideas from.
LL: Cool, so you go with the vibe. How would you describe that feeling of knowing when a song works?
TF: It's just a feeling. I don't know, I think, yeah, maybe anyone who makes something can have an idea and if it takes shape they can tell if they like it or not. I can sort of start to feel if I like or don't like. Half of the time, just the process of making shit is practice or getting better at it, it's not like it's ever not productive to be making music.
But I guess – and this is a broad description – but when I'm hearing it when I play it back and I can feel the feeling that I was trying to portray – as cheesy as it sounds, then it's doing what it should. If it's not really doing that then I treat it like an exercise.
LL: And in terms of musical inspiration, who do you find you draw a lot from?
TF: Um, I think when you make music you can start to learn and appreciate stuff from most music, but I think my inspiration in terms of producers who work in the same domain as I do, there's a guy called Burial who I've always liked for his ability to convey a feeling very well. It's just like good, moody music. I've always considered him my favour music producer of all time.
But then, I also grew up listening to a lot of Coast Rock, eighties punk, dark wave – Joy Divisioney-type shit. But I like a lot of music.
LL: How did you get into producing?
TF: I studied at jazz school playing bass guitar, and I played in bands and stuff and I've always wanted to be playing music but I felt like I needed to be studying so it made sense that what I ended up studying would be music because I couldn't really commit to anything else.
And the thing about playing in bands is that there are heaps of pros that you don't get doing music by yourself, but I guess the other thing is that you've gotta meet in the middle on a lot of things so sometimes you miss the chance to develop your own idea. So for me producing was just my outlet to do my own shit.
So yeah, I started to take more of an interest in the producing side and its potential to be a career while I was at music school. Music school was funny though, because I actually on several occasions nearly got kicked out because I wouldn't gel with certain aspects of theory and things which are the obvious upshot of taking something creative and trying to make it academic. You need your creativity to be standardized, and I always found that a weird kind of thing.
LL: What does it take to be a successful New Zealand musician?
TF: I guess anyone who's willing to commit hard enough to doing anything, and love doing it – as cheesy as it sounds, that's the only way that you can't actually fail. Surely nothing bad can result from that and it can only grow into a significant or successful thing.
LL: These days, one of the big things for musos and creative of all types are to make money by taking deals – you know someone tries to chuck money at you to use your music for a weird ad for a certain type of pet food or something. Or some people just don't offer you any money but want to use your music in exchange for putting it out there. How do you navigate getting exposure with keeping your image in check?
TF: Yeah, I guess I ultimately make music for myself, but if I'm going to be putting it out, which I am, I'd be lying to say that there's not part of it that's about having it heard. And exposure, which is like, construed pretty liberally, in the music world especially – people do a lot of things offering exposure and not actually offering real money or anything necessarily except for exposure. And that's important, but you've just got to be careful with what and who you align with if that's going to be detrimental to how you actually feel about the product you're making. Some stuff is neither here nor there, and I think that's cool and I roll with that kind of stuff, but I think you've just got to be thoughtful of the fact that as much as you want to have your stuff heard you've got to be careful of how you go about that.
Sometimes you do get pressured to say yes to certain things just for that exposure though. Like, I never thought that I'd have to think so much about the business side of things, and to think about it as a brand, but I guess that's the reality of it and you just have to be good at keeping that element in check and remembering why you do it.
LL: What do you think is your brand?
TF: I guess I'd like it to be something that – well, I don't try to push too much how people receive it, but I guess if it gives someone a feeling, a real feeling of any type, but I guess then that's doing what it's intended to do.
LL: Yeah, you do seem like someone who does things based on the feelings more than trying to constrict yourself with standardised descriptions – but then you've got to work in an industry that does try to brand and package you... do you find that quite hard?
Yeah, so definitely I do. But I think by default, whether there's a pressure to do that or not, people need to package something. So no matter what, the people who hear it will package it. But it is weird to have that happen to whatever degree from both sides, and to think about how I'm being perceived. It's also like an idealistic way of portraying myself. It's such a funny thing.
LL: You dropped your music video for 'Martyrs' earlier this week. What was the concept behind it?
TF: Well, usually you think of a martyr being an epic saint-type person and it was just like funny or interesting to have it be some washed up shitty miracle healer, or magician. I thought it was just a funny way to portray a martyr. I talked about it with Arty [Papageorgiou] and Phoebe [Gittins], and so we came up with idea together and they turned it into something manageable and tangible.
LL: Those visuals totally changed the way I saw the song.
TF: Yeah, that's interesting. I would love to be able to reset my brain to be able to see how the music video would affect the way I think about the song. Because I do wonder about that and I know it does have that effect, but since I've heard the song so much and seen the video so much, I don't know how that feeling would differ from how I already feel about the song. How would you describe what it made you think?
LL: I reckon it's such a New Zealand aesthetic. It kind of reminded me of Clap Clap Riot's music video for 'Lie'. And I like that. But also I think it's super relevant to what's going on right now. Prada last week coined a phrase, 'post-modest', and her idea behind it was that symbols that used to mean something don't mean anything anymore, and that the idea of modesty was dead, like, everything's so carefully groomed to appear modest these days. And her big statement was to, you know, chuck together all of those 'basic' things - like stripes, snakeskin, bunny, eye and rocket motifs and so on - into her hand sown luxury range to make her point. So that's a lot like your middle aged hypocritical pastor in your music video.
And I also like it because your style of music is used to being listened to in dark, sweaty and loud places, so when you clean it up and you take it to church, it's a little bit jarring, but in a cool way. You know, it's like that feeling when you've been out all night and you see the sun come up.
TF: Yeah, that's a cool description. I like how you read it.
LL: So, now that you've rolled out this music video, when's your EP coming out?
TF: Well, yeah I don't have a date in stone, but I've got pretty much all the tracks ready and working on a collaboration which will potentially be on there. Ideally within the next few months.
LL: And what else do you have planned for this year?
TF: Just doing as much as I can with music, really. I'm going to LA this Saturday to work with a lyricist that I've been doing a lot of work for, Azizi Gibson. So I'm working on his album and hopefully working with a few people while I'm there, but I don't know, I'll just roll with the punches.
Published on July 03, 2015 by Laetitia Laubscher